Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

WHEN you have a mobile device, it’s tempting to connect any time, anywhere using the nearest open Wi-Fi network rather than eat up your data plan.

However, connecting through a public Wi-Fi network or hotspot can compromise your mobile security and put your information at risk.

Whether you are on your computer or your mobile device, it’s relatively easy for hackers to access the information you type and send over an unsecured Wi-Fi network, including your login and password information.

There is even a name hackers use for the act of cruising around, looking for unsecured Wi-Fi networks and potential victims: "war driving".

You could be at a café or library, not knowing that a cyber criminal is just outside intercepting the information you’re typing on your computer. Just imagine how dangerous it is to do online banking on an unsecured network — cyber criminals can potentially steal your login credentials and access your accounts!

Even if you are not directly accessing a Wi-Fi network, some of your mobile applications such as Skype, Twitter and instant messaging apps may be using local hotspots without you realising it.

If the network is not secure, it’s possible for hackers to access the information you are transmitting, and even eavesdrop on your voice over internet protocol (VoIP) conversations when you are using the internet as your phone service.

What’s more, Skype and some instant messaging apps allow you to transfer files through their applications, so these can be intercepted too.

Even if you’re not worried about cyber criminals overhearing your conversations or reading your text messages, you should be concerned about shortcomings that have been found in some communication apps that allow attackers to access personal information on your mobile device, such as your address book.

No matter how tempting it is to use the closest Wi-Fi spot rather than pay for an expensive data plan, make sure you only connect to secure networks, and follow these tips to ensure that you keep your information safe.

• Only do online banking and shopping using your secure home network.

• Avoid using communication apps, such as free phone calls, instant messaging and Twitter, unless you know the network you’re using is secure.

• Consider using Twitter’s new HTTPS setting which ensures that your communications are sent via a secure channel.

• Use strong passwords for all your online accounts and change them often.

• Use a tested product that provides mobile antivirus and safe-search protection, as well as giving you the ability to locate your phone in the case of loss to remotely lock and wipe the information you have stored on it, and to restore your data.

Although Wi-Fi networks make it easy and convenient to connect any time and anywhere, remember that unsecure networks can allow cyber criminals to access your information and compromise your mobile security.

• Hockley is regional director of McAfee for South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa

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